Periodization: Part 2!

Learn the difference between short and long term periodization. Also, find out how the different workouts will help you in different ways!
Click Here For Part One!

Here let's explain more in depth how periodization works. Let's built a program around 4 months frame.

They are 3 different stage or cycles:

    Stage One (6 Weeks)
    Stage Two (6 Weeks)
    Stage Three (6 Weeks)

Four different cycles were tested to determine which produced the superior sport results as measured by improved proficiency in competition: All four employed three 6-week stages (mesocycles):

    1. Plyometrics -- Weight Training -- Depth jumps;
    2. Plyometrics Weight Training -- Weight training;
    3. Plyometrics -- Plyometrics -- Plyometrics;
    4. Complexes -- Complexes -- Complexes (a "complex" is a workout with a combination of Plyometrics, Weight Training and Depth Jumps).

Clearly, in the short run (over six weeks), Cycle #4 was superior. In the long run (over an entire 18 week mesocycle), Cycle #1 proved to be the best.

Now, I deemed it appropriate to start off with this example because it is so utterly exemplary of the tremendous value of short-term periodization in your training. Long-term periodization is no less effective. Long-term periodization involves a carefully planned approach to one's entire sports career. You may not be an Olympic weightlifter, a shot putter or a high jumper, maybe you're a bodybuilder.

First, the nuts and bolts of periodization, what it is, and how to construct one for your own unique body.

Short-Term Periodization

Before beginning, there's a few "unique" words used in periodization training that you should be familiar with. A "macrocycle" is an entire training cycle (for bodybuilders, an entire year). Macrocycles are divided into "mesocycles" because as your training progresses, and you begin to make gains, your training objectives change accordingly.

For bodybuilders, a mesocycle would be one training cycle leading up to a contest. Mesocycles are further broken down into "microcycles." Each of your "body parts" -- legs, chest, arms, and so forth -- has its own unique recovery ability, and therefore require unique microcyclic fluctuations in training intensity levels. The entire system is called short-term "periodization." Here's a list of recovery facts to remember when planning your next training cycle using the short-term periodization approach:

  • Big muscles take longer to recover than smaller ones
  • Fast twitch muscles take longer to recover than slow twitch
  • Guys recover faster than girls
  • You recover faster from slow movements than from fast movements
  • You recover faster from low intensity training than from high intensity training
  • Youngsters recover faster than older folks.
  • As you progress through your career and get bigger and stronger, the stress you inflict upon your body also becomes greater, so recovery becomes more and more critical through the years;
  • While it is not always advised, recovery is speeded up considerably by eliminating (or reducing) the "negative" or "eccentric" portion of the lifting movement;
  • Good nutrition and rest allow for more rapid recovery.

And here are some training facts to remember as well:

Strength and speed are separate concepts requiring weight training with different percentages of maximum as follows:

80 - 95 percent of max -- speed and strength developed together
50 - 80 percent of max -- speed is developed more than strength
95 percent and higher -- only strength is developed

Each sport has to be treated differently (i.e., a different periodization scheme). For example, the Soviets taught their coaches that speed depends upon endurance in distance events, but upon strength in anaerobic events.

Eccentric training does not force adaptation in ligaments and tendons -- only speed-strength training (lifting the weight fast -- max effort, accelerating the weight with inertia assisting) can do that. As your competition draws nearer and nearer, your training objectives change, and therefore your training methods change commensurably.

Having listed this recovery and training facts, it's clear as to why you must divide your training into periods. Here then are some of the important basics regarding the theory behind the need to periodize your training:

    Planned training must bring you to peak form at a pre-determined date (e.g., a competition).
    Planning should make the process and end result of your training less haphazard and more predictable.

The training methods you employ must be systematically ordered such that each "period" of training gets your body and mind ready for the next period -- a foundational approach. As your competition draws nearer and nearer, your training objectives change, and therefore your training methods change commensurably. For example, it is wise to establish a foundation of limit strength first so that your speed training can be accomplished safely.

Long-Term Periodization

Long-term periodization is a bit different in scope but not in philosophy. The scope encompasses an entire career in sports, but the philosophy is still one of planned progression. One's career in sport is segmented approximately this way:

    Preparatory Stage: At around age 13, the athlete is admitted to a sport school for a 2-year initial preparatory period. Mastery of sport technique is emphasized, as is general fitness.

    Instructional Stage: Then follows 2-3 years comprised of 70 percent heavy weight training for strength and 30 percent general fitness/sports training with technically correct sports techniques firmly in place.

Sport Perfection Stage: Three years of intense sport-specific training in order to make the grade of "Master of Sport" in their respective sports.

How Does Periodization Stack?

Here are a few laws that I found few years ago in a bodybuilding magazine and called my interest:

The Law of Individual Differences: We all have different abilities and weaknesses, and we all respond differently (to a degree) to any given system of training. These differences should be taken into consideration when designing your training program.

The Overcompensation Principle: Mother Nature overcompensates for training stress by giving you bigger and stronger muscles.

The Overload Principle: To make Mother Nature overcompensate, you must stress your muscles beyond what they're already used to.

The Use/Disuse Principle: "Use it or lose it" means that your muscles hypertrophy with use and atrophy with disuse.

The GAS Principle: The acronym for General Adaptation Syndrome, this law states that there must be a period of low intensity training or complete rest following periods of high intensity training.

The Specificity Principle: You'll get stronger at squats by doing squats as opposed to leg presses, and you'll get greater endurance for the marathon by running long distances than you will by (say) cycling long distances.

Let's get one thing clear right now. If you periodize your training for maximum efficiency, every one of these laws will be obeyed. There is no other way but the BEST way. On the other hand, I've seen some pretty dismal training garbage in the past that has been referred to as a "periodized" program. It may have been periodized, but it certainly wasn't the BEST! In like fashion, if you do NOT periodize your training, there is NO WAY you can ever hope to have the BEST training system possible.

The example of contest preparation describe graphically below illustrates how each "mesocycle" is designed to prepare you for the next "mesocycle." Remember, though, your progress must be ever-upward. That's the beauty of this system! It requires that you follow the basic principle of "progressive" resistance body part per body part at the microcyclic level.

Important: The time between your workouts -- which includes both recovery and super compensation processes -- will vary anywhere from a day to as many as 6 or 7 days, depending upon, a) individual recuperative ability, b) efficient use of supplements, diet, rest and other restorative techniques, c) size and type of muscle, d) severity of the overload (especially the severity of the eccentric phase of muscle contraction), and e) gender and age.

If you train again before recovery is complete you will overtrain. If you train again after super compensation is at maximum, you'll make gains, but now here nearly as efficiently. That is because, by that time, atrophy has begun.

An Example Of A Periodized Bodybuilding Training Protocol

Bodybuilders follow the same laws of training as any other group of athletes, but with a few critical alterations. These differences arise because in all of sport, only bodybuilding places an absolute premium on muscle hypertrophy processes -- it is the entire point of the sport.

Body Part Days of Rest After "A" Workouts Days of Rest After "B" Workouts Days of Rest After "C" Workouts
Chest 2 Days Rest 3 Days Rest 4 Days Rest
Shoulders 2 Days Rest 3 Days Rest 4 Days Rest
Traps 3 - 4 Days Rest No Workout No Workout
Lower Back 3 Days Rest 4 Days Rest No Workout
Upper Back 2 Days Rest 3 Days Rest 4 Days Rest
Biceps 2 Days Rest 3 Days Rest 4 Days Rest
Triceps 2 Days Rest 3 Days Rest 4 Days Rest
Midsection 2 Or 3 Days Rest No Workout No Workout
Quads 3 Days Rest 4 Days Rest 5 Days Rest
Hams 3 Days Rest 4 Days Rest 5 Days Rest
Calfs 2 Or 3 Days Rest No Workout No Workout
Forearms 2 Or 3 Days Rest No Workout No Workout

Click here for a printable version of the example!

The time between "C" workouts will vary anywhere from 9 days to as many as 16 days. The "A" and "B" workouts between the "C" workouts must be relatively devoid of damaging eccentric contraction in order to allow Type IIb muscle fibers a chance to once again appear. The "C" workout will emphasize eccentric movements, forcing fusion between these fibers and surrounding satellite cells (called "hypertrophy").

Incidentally, the Type IIb fibers are critical to athletes such as powerlifters, weightlifters, shot putters and jumpers. That is why a full 2 weeks or so respite from damaging eccentric movements must be taken before the day of competition. Detraining is easily avoided by weight training with concentric movements only.

For bodybuilders, as with other athletes, if you train again before recovery is complete you will overtrain. The difference is in the way bodybuilders must handle eccentric movements and their damaging effects upon muscle cells (especially the highly fatigable, easily destroyed IIb fibers).

Periodization For Bodybuilding Is As Simple As "ABC"

That's a personal thing. You can adjust it to fit your specific recuperative capabilities as you learn more about how your body responds to the schedule. You may find that you can recover faster, so more frequent C workouts -- or fewer A's and B's -- are called for. Or maybe you Type IIb fibers aren't recovering enough in a specific body part between your C workouts, so you add an A or a B. That's appropriate. The precise pattern is something only personal experience can show you.

"A" Workouts are characterized by ample rest between sets in order to restore ATP, clear lactic acid and restore normal heart rate. This is a very low intensity workout designed primarily to avoid detraining effects while waiting for the "C" workout. Concentrate on training each bodypart according to how mother nature intended the muscle(s) involved to contract (e.g., with speed, limit strength or both).

The exercises performed for the larger muscle groups should be devoid of eccentric contractions to the greatest extent possible. If you don't have the technology (e.g., isokinetic equipment) to make this possible, at least de-emphasize the eccentric phase by lowering the weight very rapidly. For forearm, calf and midsection work, this does not apply because they're principally red (Type I) muscle fibers, making them highly resistant to fatigue and micro trauma.

Also, it is not generally feasible to perform midsection, calf or forearm movements explosively, as these muscle groups involve very short ranges of motion. In general, chest, biceps, and hamstrings movements are done explosively, while triceps, delts and quads are built for both speed and strength. Your back, lats and smaller muscle groups should be worked for strength.

"B" Workouts are moderate intensity workouts designed primarily to avoid detraining effects while waiting for the "C" workout. The principal aim of this workout is to ensure that muscle size is not lost from myofibrillar, mitochondrial and sarcoplasmic atrophy. As with "A" workouts, the exercises performed for the larger muscle groups should be devoid of eccentric contractions to the greatest extent possible. If you don't have the technology (e.g., isokinetic equipment) to make this possible, at least de-emphasize the eccentric phase by lowering the weight very rapidly.

"C" Workouts are called "holistic" sets. This is a maximum intensity workout, particularly because it is grueling and because eccentric movements are emphasized maximally. It is performed nonstop, combining 2 or more exercises into one "giant" set. In other words, CONTINUOUS changing back & forth from explosive, heavy movements to slow, continuous tension movements with lighter weights. No rest between 5s, 12s and 40s is allowed. Do a total of about 200 reps nonstop. Repeat this holistic set once if you feel up to it, but no more. It's possible to do this many repetitions because the muscle fibers involved in the explosive movements are not the same ones that are targeted in the slower movements.

So, while you're doing slow movements using red (slow-twitch) muscle fibers, for example, the muscle fibers you just got through exercising with explosive reps (white, fast-twitch muscle fibers) are recovering. It is not necessary to perform calf exercises holistically. Also, holistic sets are not used in forearm, midsection or calf training. Because your low back is so susceptible to injury, you will do well to avoid holistic training there as well.

Body Part "A" Workouts "B" Workouts "C" Workouts
Chest 2 days rest
Bench press
3 days rest
Bench Press
Cable Crossovers
4 days rest
Bench Press
Dumbbell Bench Press
Cable Crossovers
Shoulders 2 days rest
Dumbbell Raises
(front & lateral)
3 days rest
4 days rest
Dumbbell Raises
(do front & lateral separately)
Traps 3 or 4 days rest
Barbell Shrugs
Lower Back 3 days rest
Back extensions
4 days rest
(No "C" Workouts)

Note: If you work the lower back on the same day as legs, is OK, but you should never do lower back workout the day before or after leg workouts

Upper Back 2 days rest
Bent Over Rows
Lat Pulldowns
3 days rest
Bent Over Rows
Lat Pulldowns
4 days rest
Bent Over Rows
Low Cable Pulley
Lat Pulldowns
Biceps 2 days rest
Barbell Curls
(straight bar)
3 days rest
Seated Incline Curls
4 days rest
Dumbbell Curls
Preacher Curls

Note: While it's OK to work biceps on the same day as upper back, you should never do biceps the day before or the day following upper back workouts

Triceps 2 days rest
3 days rest
French Presses
4 days rest
Close-Grip Bench Press
Nose Crushers

Note: While it's OK to work triceps on the same day as chest, you should never do triceps the day before or the day following chest workouts

Abs 2 or 3 days rest
Weighted Crunches
Legs 3 days rest
4 days rest
Leg Extensions
5 days rest
Leg Extensions
Hamstrings 3 days rest
(lower bar to knees)
4 days rest
Leg Curls
5 days rest
Leg Curls

Note: Quad and ham workouts typically best if done together

Calfs 2 or 3 days rest

Click Here For Part One!